When it comes to fitness, newer isn’t always better.
Once upon a time, not long ago, it would have been hard to imagine a world where we relied on packaged “food” prepared in a microwave for sustenance, or turned to heavy machinery to keep us fit and strong. We lived off the land (or at least, until World War II, not off of frozen TV dinners) and maintained our health through physical work that revolved around manual labor or daily chores.
In today’s world, Americans as a whole are unhealthier and more out of shape than ever before. In recent years, some researchers have realized those “tree huggers” might have actually been onto something—and now many are encouraging everyone to grow their own gardens or mix granola in their own kitchens. Just as this back-to-basics trend is growing with food, so it is in the fitness industry, too.
Also known as functional training—because the exercises have a direct relationship with functions we perform in daily life—this method seems to be favored over hefty bodybuilding equipment and average fitness center machines. While some experts say functional training never actually went away, many fitness gurus in Laguna Beach are stripping these movements down, bringing basic movement classes back to the forefront and making them, in essence, a new trend.
We scoped out a few—even put some to the test—to find out which old routines are new again and where to try them.
Art of Fitness
Celebrity trainer Fernanda Rocha may have stepped down from her ownership role at Art of Fitness, located in Laguna’s “hip district,” but she’s leaving behind a workout method that will whip your behind into shape. Called The Brazilian Method, the hour-long, high intensity class is a full-body workout that spices things up with Brazilian dance moves that put the fun in function. And with no breaks in this fat-burning workout, it keeps heart rates going and melts a whopping 700 to 800 calories.
“I’m taking my career to Los Angeles, but I’ve taught my trainers at Art of Fitness how to teach this class,” Fernanda says. “And I’ll come down to teach it myself on occasion.”
During her 15 years in the fitness industry, Fernanda has taught all kinds of formats, she says. “I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t. I wanted to create a workout that incorporates all body parts and different types of training.”
Fernanda’s custom-designed workout, also available on DVD, combines plyometrics (quick and powerful movements used by athletes to produce better function in sports), agility training and dance, with the use of free weights and resistance bands, to work your upper body, core, cardiovascular system and of course—your booty.
“It’s designed to move you in all directions, so it engages both the body and mind,” she says. “I promise it will be a lot of fun and you’ll get results.” (949-464-0202; artoffitnesslaguna.com, fernandafitness.com)
Many clients drop into The Well, tucked in the shopping center off of Boat Canyon Road, for a private, hands-on exercise experience. Owned and operated by Brian Wisely and his small, highly educated staff, the personal training gym focuses primarily on functional training.
“The body does only a few primary movements—squat, lunge, gate (walking), pushing, pulling and trunk extension and rotation,” Brian explains. “If you’re not in good shape, these daily functions can cause injury.”
Functional training is especially important for those of us who spend our days “balled up” at a desk or in a driver’s seat, as functional exercises open us up and extend the spine, benefiting posture and alignment, and strengthening posterior muscles (from the base of our heel to the base of the skull).
A perk that sets The Well apart is that it assesses new clients’ ability with a Functional Movement Screen (FMS), a process by which trainers grade movement patterns thereby identifying their limitations or any dysfunction. “We look at a person’s ability to perform the primary functions of the body and don’t have them do functional movements until we’ve corrected any imbalances,” Brian says. “Our purpose is to increase their function, so it’s important to make sure that we don’t first make someone’s function worse by having them do exercises they’re not ready for.”
Each 30-minute session combines both functional strength training and metabolic resistance training—activating a lot of muscle tissue, which increases metabolism and burns calories—and is performed in a series of circuits with no rest in between. These exercises also enhance the mind-body connection, Brian explains, because you have to think about what you’re doing.
Another benefit to functional movement versus training on a machine is that your body is meeting the proper plane of resistance: “If you’re doing a squat, the bottom of your foot is the plane of resistance, as it should be,” he says. “If you’re doing a leg extension on a machine, the roller is on your shin and that’s not where your body is designed to be the plane of resistance.”
Former weight lifter Mark Miller, 50, a client of The Well since last February, says he’s been into fitness since he was a teenager when he worked at a gym. “This is different than anything I’ve experienced, and my health has improved dramatically,” he says. “At my initial evaluation, I could do two-and-a-half pull-ups. Now I can do 30 to 40, and I’ve lost 20 pounds.”
Brian reminds us that when it comes to exercise, it’s not about isolation but overall function and health that’s important. “As we age, we lose muscle mass. With functional training, we’re not trying to build muscle, but maintain it—and keep muscles strong which helps maintain metabolism and bone density, and we age more gracefully as a result.”
Above all, though, he says the most important thing when it comes to exercise is to do it. “So pick something you like. Something is better for your health than nothing.” (949-715-0311; thewellfit.com)
“ ‘Functional training’ has become a buzz phrase in the fitness industry,” says Erica Roselius, a personal trainer who’s always relied on the method and hosts boot camps at Salt Creek Beach through her business, Driven Fitness. “At our industry conferences, people started talking about how great it is and it became popular again,” she says.
What’s great about this type of training in addition to working out the way the body moves in everyday life, she continues, is that it can also be used to train an athlete to be better at their sport. “For instance, if you’re a runner, exercises like single leg squats or lunges with rotation will help improve your running technique versus getting on a leg machine and applying a bunch of weight.”
Becky Wright, a self-proclaimed former gym junkie started taking Erica’s boot camps about three years ago. “Through the functional boot camps, not only have I been able to conquer the fears I have associated with doing those things but also feel that I really excel at them,” Becky says. “I even ran my first half-marathon last year. For the first time, I feel like a real athlete.”
Tina Palacios, another Driven Fitness devotee and former soccer player, echoes Becky’s sentiments, adding that the diversity of the exercises and camaraderie of the group setting keep her motivated and inspired.
“When you do the same monotonous exercise every single day, trapped inside the gym like a hamster on a wheel, you get bored and you stop getting results,” she says. “When you throw in different types of exercise, it improves how you feel physically and mentally. Boot camps are not only fun but you’re held accountable for being there because the other people in your group are counting on you to show up and motivate them.” (949-285-3431; drivenfitnessnow.com)
“I was the skinny kid growing up—6 feet 3 inches and 170 pounds,” says trainer and owner of Code Green Fitness Ryan Kollock, of his initial interest in personal training and bodybuilding as a teenager. Maxing out at 230 pounds, Ryan avoided cardio while trying to build body mass.
“I’d walk up a flight of stairs and get winded. … I looked I like I was in great shape, but I really wasn’t fit,” he explains. “I couldn’t go run five or six miles like I could now. That’s what started to change my perception of fitness, and that’s when my training began to evolve into functional fitness.”
Located in a small spot on Glenneyre adjacent the Mail Stop, Code Green (the name stems from Ryan’s eco-friendly business model) requires a commitment from most of its clients, since classes run on sequential 60-minute Monday, Wednesday and Friday or 30-minute “express” Tuesday and Thursday schedules. “Everything we do in here is functional/core movement, so a lot of it’s body weight with resistance bands, suspension systems like TRX, Olympic rings, stability balls and so on,” Ryan says.
“For instance, we perform chest presses with a band, so you have to engage and stabilize, and then push. The standard press at the gym is the bench press. How functional is that? How often are you laying on your back lifting 200, 300 pounds over your
head? Never.” Ryan’s clients range from teenager to senior citizens, and he also has training in prenatal fitness, making him an ideal trainer for pregnant women who want to stay fit. Since he knows not everyone in the same group is on the same fitness level, Ryan modifies workouts and stations for each of his clients’ personal needs.
“As a licensed massage therapist of 20 years, I first came to Ryan with extreme shoulder pain as a result of multiple tears in my rotator cuff,” says local Vincent Bennett, who attends group classes three days a week as well as one private session to focus on personal challenges. “I’m now thrilled to report to be strong and out of pain. Our workouts continue to challenge, change and amaze me.”
For those who can’t commit to multiple days a week or have changing schedules, Ryan advises a one-on-one personal training session for 30 minutes, up to four days a week. (949-436-7348; codegreenfitness.com)
Sports Performance Institute
One of the greatest attractions about functional training is that it can be done anywhere, something clients of Sports Performance Institute are relying on now that they’ve been turned out of their facility on Laguna Canyon Road. Through the transition period, owner and exercise trainer and physiologist Mike Catanzaro and his three his fellow trainers are holding private sessions and boot camps at various outdoor locations while they’re on the lookout for a new home base.
“These sessions are actually a lot of fun to hold at a park,” Mike says. They also require few supplies like a yoga mat and TRX (a suspension training tool that leverages gravity and the user’s body weight to perform hundreds of exercises).
An example session, Mike says, would be laying out the mat for a warm-up and stretching to get the heart rate going. “Lunges, sit-ups, squats and pull-ups are all great stations you can do at the park.” Picnic tables can serve as a prop for jump-ups, for instance.
“At the Laguna Beach High School track, we can do sprints and run stadiums, and the TRX can be tied to bleachers, fences, tree branches,” he adds.
Mike built his company around this organic philosophy, which focuses on using our bodies as they are intended to move. “The best thing we can do is sustain weight on our own mechanics,” he says. “In the history of fitness, we’ve been moving away from things we did as kids—running, climbing trees, swinging from monkey bars—the things we naturally gravitate towards.
“Machines came about in the 1970s around the time of the Muscle Beach boom, and that stuck around for a while. … Then we saw these eastern European athletes who were running faster, jumping higher and better than we were … and we wanted to know why … they were doing functional training.”
Some muscle isolation, Mike argues, has its place, but injuries from improper form and performance are a big risk. “We need to find balance going forward to create the best training methods possible.” (714-421-3180)
When it comes to modern fitness, ancient technique is scoring points with many local experts. In addition to maintaining cardiovascular health, increasing flexibility and enabling our bodies to move more fluidly, functional fitness has the added bonus of being fun. Can’t make it to the gym today because you’ve got the kids? Just head outside, says Brian. Run with them, climb trees, swing on the monkey bars. “Being playful is being functional.” LBM
More Local workouts
Essence of Health
Laguna Health Club
Ritual Yoga Arts
Yogaworks Laguna Beach